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The Non-Conscious Learning Environment

Updated on August 2, 2012
Used correctly, the non-conscious can double our learning opportunities
Used correctly, the non-conscious can double our learning opportunities | Source

Teachers spend hours each week planning, perfecting and implementing their lesson plans. Entire classes are taught about this task alone, and yet much of student learning happens outside the planned lesson.

We know that what a student sees, and how they see it plays an important role in their education. Sometimes though, what we remember the most, what makes the biggest impression on our memory is what goes on around us, things we may not even be aware we are absorbing.

Our subconscious is a powerful tool. As teachers if we can learn to capitalize on this, and learn to utilize it in our teaching, we will have one more avenue towards helping our students be academically successful.

Some Learning is Automatic

According to Jensen (2008) researchers have found that more than 99% of all learning is non-conscious. Our brains never shut down, they are constantly aware of what is going on around us, even if we aren't.

Its for this reason that we need to be aware of what we have around our classroom that may influence the students learning. Visuals, smells, sounds, and movements all will be noticed, if not consciously, then subconsciously.

Some lessons are learned best when they just happen. Think about when you have students work in groups. While you "plan" on having them accomplish a specific project, they are also learning valuable skills in learning to work together in a group, problem solving skills, leadership skills and more. What they learn automatically, or subconsciously would be very hard to replicate in a structured environment.

Our senses provide us with a variety of learning opportunities
Our senses provide us with a variety of learning opportunities | Source

The Power of Non-Conscious Learning

Jensen (2008) defines non-conscious as anything we do not pay attention to in the present moment. There are 3 key principals that explain this type of learning.

1. Acknowledge the mind's enormous capacity for reception.

  • While we can train our brains to focus primary attention on items of our choice, it is much harder, perhaps nearly impossible to train our brains to completely ignore our surroundings.
  • As teachers we need to be aware that student brains will constantly be soaking in what we are wearing, what our body language is saying, and what attitude we are expressing.

2. Categorize the value of visuals, music, stories, myth, metaphor, and movement.

  • While we know there is value in each of these areas, we are still learning how exactly our brains code, symbolize, generalize and multi-process the information and stimuli they provide.

3. Address perceptions, biases, and barriers before learning.

  • While we may not see something as important enough to address, it may be the things that prevents our students from learning. The perfume we are wearing, the outfit we have on, the lights in our classroom, can all turn out to be the most important barriers for our students.

More on Suggestion

As teachers we need to remember that everything we say makes a difference. It can make a positive difference, or a negative difference. Work to keep a positive and all-inclusive tone to your messages. Simple changes from "Merry Christmas" to "Happy Holidays


Teaching Tips for Optimizing Non-Conscious Learning

Realizing that our student's brains are constantly gathering information, both consciously and non-consciously we also must recognize the need for our students to have time to process all that their brains are absorbing.

Trying to achieve a balance of suggesting, asking and telling our students what we want from them is important. Making sure our students don't resist or resent our attempts at leaderships, while at the same time making sure they don't leave our classroom confused or frustrated by lack of instruction.

The subconscious is a powerful tool. If we as teachers ignore the value of this we can quickly see all we work at teaching disappear, if we learn to use it, we can more than double the learning opportunities presented to our students.


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    • Jeani Nugent profile imageAUTHOR

      Jeanine Elizabeth 

      6 years ago from Cumberland, Wisconsin

      As I was writing this hub I kept having "duh" moments. So much of this is common sense, yet as a teacher I definitely wasn't aware enough of some non-conscious learning going on. I can see so many benefits to not only being aware of this, but also using it to my advantage! Thanks for your comments!

    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 

      6 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      This concept is very important. It can help us both as teachers and as parents realize that the environment we create in the classroom and the home has a profound affect on our students and children. Thanks for writing!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I agree that much goes on below the surface, which is part of what makes teaching a challenge at times. I teach English to adult immigrants here in the U.S. and this holds true for adults also. So many factors come into play in learning (or resistance to learning). Sometimes what goes on outside of class facilitates learning and sometimes it interferes with it (learning incorrect pronunciation or grammar). As you say, the mind is dynamic and constantly collecting.


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